No Secrets, Judge Rules

Defense attorneys don’t always approve when news organizations report freely about court proceedings. Even worse, sometimes, are court papers and court files. This is the evidence that forms the basis for the charges lodged against their client. They want to keep their client’s secrets… secret. Evidence without context is harmful. And there’s something else. At the heart of the American criminal justice system is the principle of a “fair trial.” And at the center of that is an “impartial jury.”

Bang.

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Mementoes Found in Hansen’s Attic (courtesy AST)

Once reporters start circulating the torrent of evidence against their client, the argument goes, major risks quickly surface. This is what Hansen’s attorney Fred Dewey was after. Keeping secrets secret. On Thursday, February 9, 1984, Dewey asked the judge to seal the Hansen evidence. He wanted to ensure that an impartial jury could be selected for Robert Hansen’s trial.

Keeping Secrets

Secrecy is important, Dewey said, because news reports had linked his client to the murder of two topless dancers found on the Knik River. The trouble was, he continued, his client had not been charged with those murders.

“It would be impossible for Mr. Hansen to get a fair trial on his theft charges” Dewey maintained, “when the public perceives him to be a murderer.”

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Section of Hansen flight map along Knik River (courtesy AST)

Point well taken. But the “real” audience for those bits and pieces of evidence was not merely the greater Anchorage public. Indeed, it could be argued that police and prosecutors had an audience of one. Robert Hansen. Keeping secrets from Robert Hansen was not part of the plan.

What Jurors Know

Judge Ralph Moody took the matter under consideration. He did not buy the defense argument. In Moody’s estimation, most people asked to serve on juries have not heard details of even the most sensational cases. Closing the pre-trial hearings, Moody opined, would probably cause more speculation — not less. No secrets, he ruled. With one exception.

All law enforcement officials and prosecuting attorneys were prohibited from talking about the case. As it was, Judge Moody was merely leaving a prior order in place.

Moody’s ruling would prove crucial. Because Robert Hansen would quickly learn what investigators knew. Would learn what they’d found at his house. It wasn’t pretty. The pressure was on.


Copyright Leland E. Hale (2022). All rights reserved.

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